People power forces Morley out, struggle for Nichelle Hayes to lead IndyPL continues

by Sam James

This week, empowered Indianapolis Public Library workers openly shared the petition demanding that the Board of Trustees hire Nichelle Hayes as IndyPL CEO through official library email channels. In a message one worker wrote to staff encouraging them to sign and share the petition, he said, “I believe in Nichelle Hayes and she has earned my loyalty and respect by her action. I’m not gaining anything from this besides a leader that I can trust in and openly follow without doubt… Please do not let this go through unchallenged.” That petition currently has over 800 signatures.

Workers should have the ability to hire their own leadership! We echo his demand for the unaccountable, unelected board to hire Nichelle Hayes as the Indianapolis Public Library CEO.

We ousted the last CEO, and we ousted this CEO before he even took the job! It’s time to use our community power to put in the CEO that we, the people, want and deserve to steward our public library system, Nichelle Hayes! We need a Library board that represents the will of the library workers and the community and a CEO that is responsive to our voices.

Hayes is the CEO we need.

Hayes has risen through the ranks of library workers. She was tasked as a traveling librarian when she first started and served in branches big and small all over the library system. She is a multi-generational Indianapolis resident who has deep roots and connections in the Indianapolis community with wide and popular support.

Board snubs Hayes in favor of disgraced ex-NOLA Library leader Gabriel Morley

It all went down at the special board meeting held on December 8 at the Library Services Center at 5:30P where the board sat down at 5:31pm. Board president Judge Jose Salinas adjourned the meeting by 5:40pm.

In a prepared statement, Salinas – who was appointed by the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners – told the room full of community members that he hoped anyone who did not “get their preferred outcome” would “value the library enough to support the organization.” This blatant pandering was necessary due to the huge volume of support among the community for Nichelle Hayes, who held the title of interim CEO of IndyPL for the past 8 months. Salinas and the rest of the board knew very well that this decision would not be popular – enough so that they called on armed IMPD officers to wait just outside the meeting room.

The announcement that they planned to hire Morley was met with instant outcry from the audience. Cries of “shame!” filled the room as the board moved and seconded the insulting resolution. Salinas, stammering and determined to look at anything but the community members present, scolded the crowd to “be respectful.”

Respect, of course, must be earned, and Salinas proved himself yet again unworthy of the people’s respect. Only two board members, Dr. Khaula Murtadha and Patricia A. Payne, spoke out on behalf of the people’s choice, Hayes.

Murtadha and Payne stand up for Hayes, earn cheers from community

Dr. Murtadha referenced letters of support for Hayes that came from library workers, patrons, educators, and more in her comment to the board.

“We have an opportunity to finally choose someone who has come up through the ranks,” she said, referring to Hayes. “She knows this city and knows the challenges of this city. Someone who has worked hard and diligently, and is an experienced leader, not only here, but nationally. To ignore that is a travesty.”

The audience cheered in support. None on the board bothered to defend their decision to support Morley.

Dr. Murtadha continued on to say that she had not had the opportunity to review the resolution before the meeting began. Her first time laying eyes on it, she said, was when she stepped into the room.

“That is a divisive step,” she told Salinas. “That is a divisive step, not a unifying step.”

Payne also voiced her disappointment in the board’s decision.

“It is really, really disheartening and a shame to be a part of this board,” Payne said.

No public comment was allowed at the meeting. No public comments submitted via approved channels before the meeting appear to have been considered by the majority of the board.

Dr. Murtadha and Payne both voted no on the resolution to offer the job to Morley. Curtis Bigsbee – an employee of the Lawrence Police Department, appointed to the board by the Marion County Board of Commissioners – abstained. Dr. TD Robinson and Hope Tribble, both appointed by the City-County Council, voted to approve, as did Raymond Biederman, another appointee of the Marion County Board of Commissioners.

Special acknowledgement must be given to Tribble, who made the rounds among community members just the week before at the public presentations by both candidates on November 30. At that event, she told multiple attendees that she supported Hayes, and would stand with the community. The crowd responded to her betrayal with cries of dismay and disappointment. She did not spare them a glance.

The people vote after the Board leaves, Morley ousted the next day

After adjourning the meeting less than 10 minutes after it began, board members rushed out of the room. The people, on the other hand, made themselves comfortable. As the board filed out, community members took their vacated seats and demanded a people’s vote.

Michael Torres, president of AFSCME 3395 Indy Library Workers, led the vote. The room shook with the force of the people’s shouted “ayes” for Nichelle Hayes. Gabriel Morley’s name drew only boos.

Unlike the IndyPL Board, Morley listened to the will of the community and has since declined to take the position, implicitly acknowledging the strong community opposition.

Morley ousted, but Board still refuses to appoint Hayes

The unaccountable board, however, has so far continued to refuse to listen to their patrons, community members and organizations, and library workers. In a December 9 press release officially announcing that Morley declined of the offer, Salinas explicitly denied the community support for Hayes: “Dr. Morley earned this offer on his own merit, through his qualifications, and decades of experience.”

The Board gave Indianapolis yet another slap in the face and appointed someone other than Hayes as Interim CEO without any justification. Moreover, the same press release quotes Salinas stating that, instead of doing the next right and logical thing, “the Library Board will consider how to move forward with another search.” Why would they start an entirely new–and costly search–rather than offer the job to Hayes?

The people, not the Board, will decide who leads our library

The community removed the last IndyPL CEO, Jackie Nytes, after library workers spoke out about her racism against Black workers and general bigotry. That struggle started on May 24, 2021, after Nytes tried to prevent Bree Flannelly, a Black woman who previously worked at the Central Library, from speaking at a Board meeting. When she did speak, Salinas muted her.

Outraged, workers and their supporters built a movement to oust Nytes. Together, AFSCME Local 3395 and the Indianapolis Liberation Center hosted press conferences, organized street protests, and launched a petition. After a summer of struggle, during which Nytes repeatedly said she would not resign, the people won. On August 20, Nytes announced her resignation in an e-mail to library employees.

The power of library workers and the community removed Nytes. That same power removed Morley before he even started his position. Now we, the people, are going to mobilize that power to get Nichelle Hayes hired as our CEO to steward the Indianapolis Public Library. If the board of trustees wants to fight the will of the people, then let’s give them a fight to remember!

In addition to signing and circulating the petition demanding that the Board appoint Hayes as CEO, we encourage everyone to come out to a protest in front of the Central Library on December 12 to show their support for Hayes and take the next steps in building real community power in Indianapolis.